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Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

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Bali, Indonesia

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Archive for the ‘Anchoring’ Category

The Old Dock at Puerto Plata

Posted by: melissa

We had not planned on stopping in the Dominican Republic so when we landed at Puerto Plata, we had no idea what to expect.  As Andy mentioned, the engine had been losing revs.  We held our breath asView of Puerto Plata from the Ocean we motored slowly (with periodic engine coughs) through the reefs with breaking waves on either side, and steered past the exposed remains of a wrecked ship that failed to heed the chart’s advice regarding the narrow channel.  Furthermore, nobody ever answered our radio calls.  Usually, boats can call a harbor master, marina, another boater, somebody, on VHF channel 16 to get information on how to proceed and what to expect.

As we approached however, it became clear that dock workers were in fact waiting for our arrival.  A tug boat traversed the channel entrance and lots of guys stood on the closest point yelling instructions for us (in Espanol, but pointing and arm waving worked fine too).

Coming around the bend, we noticed that all of the smaller boats were med-moored, just as our onboard copy of Reed’s Caribbean Almanac indicated.  We were a bit nervous, having never performed this procedure before, but we read up on it and made a plan of attack.  Luckily, the dock workers gestured that we should land any way we possibly could … which we did.

Almost exclusively for commercial use, the old dock is basically a concrete slab — no marina, no mooring balls, no floating docks, no finger piers, no pilings, no nothing.  Way too high and only sporadically brandishing some old tires for protection, this dock is not well suited for a boat like ours.  Spectacle stuck out conspicuously among the fishing boats, tugs, and freighters.  Plus, we quickly realized why most boats were med-moored … a significant surge in several directions depending on tide and time and day.

Nonetheless, the dock workers helped tie us up with multiple lines, including spring lines which are docking lines that help stabilize the boat’s movement.  For instance, an “after bow spring line” attaches near the bow, runs aft, and attaches to the dock preventing the boat from surging forward.  Another example: a “forward quarter spring line” attaches to the quarter of the boat, runs forward, and attaches to the dock near the bow of the boat preventing the boat from surging backwards.

About this time, we met our all-purpose “fixer,” Roberto, who will be described in more detail later.  Roberto promptly hired a night time boat-sitter for security purposes (the boat-sitter frequently had a humongous gun) and to watch the lines.

The next morning, we awoke to a loud crash towards the bow that sounded like another boat had hit us.  We jumped out of bed to find that the surge had pounded us into the dock.  Luckily, it was the bow anchors that were hitting, causing the sound to be worse than the pound, but still, we were a little confused as to how we could be hitting the dock even with the huge surge.

In any event, we sprang into action to tighten several lines and lessen the swing towards the dock.  It was a difficult task because of the tremendous load on the lines, so coordination and finesse were required as the swell periodically, but only briefly, slackened the lines.  In the mean time, we attracted an audience of French Canadian tourists waiting for their deep-sea fishing expedition to begin.  Several were actually videotaping our little drama unfold, and since we had just jumped out of bed, we were both in our underwear (be watching for us on “Montreal’s Funniest Home Videos”).

After the significant effort to tighten the lines, we realized that the night time boat-sitter had rearranged a strategically placed and vitally important spring line.  This error is what caused us to surge forward (incorrectly slackening the other spring and dock lines) and consequently, bash into the dock.  To add insult to injury, the just completed fixes rendered the replacement of the incorrect, but still necessary, spring line impossible.  The surge kept growing stronger and stronger.  Finally, it caught us just right, smashed us fairly hard into the dock, and damaged the rub rail.  At this point, Roberto the “fixer” suggested a med-moor situation, which he seemed confident to be able to achieve even with our flaky engine and shaky electrical system.

Because picking up the anchor and the anchor chain would be extremely difficult without the electric windlass, Roberto and Andy headed to the hardware store to pick up some lighter weight anchor rode.  They were only gone for about 30 minutes, and in that time, a spring line snapped like a piece of thread under the massive load.  Luckily, I was able to replace it without another crash into the dock.

With the confidence and leadership of a true Captain, Andy put on his negotiator hat telling Roberto Spectacle Med-Moored at the Old Dock, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republicexactly what needed to be accomplished, how much it would cost, and who would be ultimately responsible for the result.  When all parties were satisfied with the agreement, Roberto and his team went to work to med-moor Spectacle, and Andy and I went to lunch.  Upon our return, Spectacle was in a much safer situation – stern perpendicular to the dock, two anchors off the bow keeping us off the dock, two stern lines keeping us close enough to the dock, and two stern spring lines to keep us from swinging too far laterally.  Disaster averted.  Or so we thought …

Being at anchor, med-moored, in a significant surge, against a concrete slab, is not exactly conducive to a good night’s rest.  After awhile though, we relaxed and realized that Spectacle was pretty stable.  The likelihood of both anchors dragging was low especially since the sea floor sloped sharply and a loose anchor would simply drag uphill and easily re-bite.  Furthermore, Roberto admonished the night time boat-sitter and checked the lines personally.

Several days later, I woke up early, started some coffee, and began to enjoy another beautiful sunny morning in the Dominican Republic when I heard the unmistakable sound of an anchor dragging across the ocean floor.  I ran up on deck to find an approximately 60-foot-long, beat-up, third world, commercial cargo boat attempting to slip in to the dock beside us and dragging our anchor with it.  I yelled and gesticulated frantically, confirmed that the other anchor was still intact, and grabbed Andy out of bed.

The First Boat to Run Over Our Anchor Line:  The Diver, the Guy in the Red Shirt (Splicing our Line Back Together), and the Typical Crowd of Random LoiterersAt first, the crew on the cargo boat stared at me blankly wondering why I was acting like such a crazy person.  Then, a guy emerged from the cabin wearing a speedo (that was threadbare and white, yikes) and donning a mask.  The swimmer dove several times, coming back up for air and providing updates in Spanish.  Another guy came from the cabin and handed the swimmer a butcher’s knife.  The next thing we saw was a different guy splicing our anchor line back together.

Needless to say, we were absolutely livid.  If both anchors had dragged, we probably would have been up against the dock with few good options and precious little time.  Roberto talked to the Captain who said that they “didn’t see the line.”  We found that pretty hard to believe for a number of different reasons: a) both anchor lines are conspicuously colored bright red; b) every boat at the dock is med-moored so obviously there’s gonna be anchor lines off the bow; and, c) they landed at the only available dock space without a rafting situation (so they wanted to be directly on the dock to unload their cargo and they didn’t really care who or what was in their way).

Now some of you might be saying to yourselves, oh Melissa and Andy . . . don’t be so crotchety . . . accidents are bound to happen and I’m sure they didn’t do it on purpose!  I thought that too for about one hour when the next cargo boat to come in did the exact same thing … ran over the anchor line, dragged the anchor under their boat, cut the line without asking, spliced the line back together, haphazardly reset the anchor, and called it all a huge accident.

 It was then that we decided to move to the closest proper marina as soon as possible.  As much as we were enjoying Puerto Plata, the safety of the boat needs to be the first concern and Checking Out of Old Dock -- (Left to Right) Random Loiterer, Andy, Representative from the DR Navy, Random Loiterer, Santiago (Driver Extraordinaire), Adolpho (Dock Hand), Francisco (Dock Hand and Frequent Night Time Boat-Sitterwe worried about the surge and the next round of cargo ships to land.  Plus, we knew that after the two incidents, it was back to sleeping with one eye open and being exhausted all of the time when there was still much work to be done.  So we informed Roberto of our impending departure and said goodbye to our new friends as we researched other places to park our floating condo.

We originally thought that Luperon was our closest option.  Famous among cruising types, Luperon is one of the best naturally protected harbors in the entire Caribbean and many cruisers spend all of hurricane season anchored and well sheltered there.  Unfortunately for us and the inconsistency of our electric windlass, Luperon is mostly an anchorage area.  One marina has only about ten slips (and I never was able to find a working phone number for them anyhow), and another marina is still under construction.  That’s when we learned about Ocean World – the two-month-old marina, casino, and marine adventure park only about 10 miles away.  And Ocean World could not be more different than the old dock.  More Pictures

Jost van Dyke

Posted by: andy

We decided to leave Tortola around 2:30 p.m. yesterday and head for Jost van Dyke, the nearby “out island” that is home to two legendary beach bars – Foxy’s and Soggy Dollar Bar — and very little else.  The thought was that we’d get to JvD around 4:30, anchor the boat, dinghy ashore, check out of BVI customs and immigration, have dinner and a few drinks at Foxy’s, dinghy back out to the boat, and sail overnight to St. Martin.

We actually managed to get off the dock just after 2:30.  It was strange saying good-bye to three different boats we had encountered in multiple locations already, knowing that, this time, we were unlikely to see them again.  I suppose we should get used to that.

Having FINALLY gotten our batteries replaced, we now no longer need to be tied to something hard – we can finally “anchor out” like proper sailors.

Anchoring is surprisingly difficult for many, many sailor – it is probably the one thing that most boat owners are slightly afraid of, and for good reason.  People often times make complete … well … spectacles of themselves as they attempt to park the boat.

I am pleased to report that our maiden anchoring was absolutely flawless.  We planned it out well and executed it perfectly.  This was a strong point for each of us back in sailing school, and, apparently, we remember what we were taught.

Our maiden post-anchoring dinghy ride, however, was not so flawless.  We managed to get the dinghy to Foxy’s dock right at 5:00.  Melissa jumped off and sprinted for customs.  Alas, we had missed them.  So, we’d have to stay overnight – no big deal.  St. Martin can wait one more day.

Foxy’s might be the single most-famous beach bar in the entire Caribbean, if not the world.  We felt like we “needed to do it” but expected to be put off by excess commercialism in the vein of Hard Rock Café.  Boy, were we wrong.

The Infamous Foxy's at Jost van Dyke, BVIYes, it has a very large T-shirt shop/boutique, and they do a very brisk business.  But Foxy’s puts out a tremendous product.  The bar is great.  The drinks are creative and tasty.  The staff is fantastic and professional, and the food was surprisingly delicious.  We were a little bit hesitant to pay $28 apiece for a “Beach BBQ,” but this was fantastic food – ribs of near-Twin Anchors quality, the best jerk chicken either of us have ever had, corn that was downright memorable (now that’s saying something).  It was a bargain at twice the price.  Foxy’s certainly doesn’t need me to tell you how great it is.  The word is already out.  But it isn’t popular by accident.

“Several” (ahem) Dread Fox cocktails later, we walked down to the dock to get on the dinghy and head back to the boat.

It was sinking.  Seriously – it was SINKING!  The left pontoon was basically flat and submerged.  We got into the boat, thinking we might just be able to make it back to Spectacle.  Totally wrong.  All we did was make it worse, instantly.

Melissa jumped back on the dock, losing a flip-flop, grabbed the waterproof bag, as we prepared to “save” the outboard.  I jumped into the water … which, thankfully, was only about four feet deep.  I managed to wrestle the outboard off the boat and onto the dock, and we eventually retrieved the boat as well and dragged it onto the beach.  However, it’s pretty clear that we’ve got a fairly meaningful “slow leak” in the dinghy (and not that slow, apparently).  Add that to the list of repairs.

We caught a ride out to the boat, slept pretty well (no paranoid middle-of-the-night dashes on deck to check the anchor), and caught a ride back in the next morning.  After reinflating the dinghy and checking out of customs, we marched (sans dinghy) over the hill to Soggy Dollar Bar.  This was quite a hot, steep and lengthy shlep, but it was worth it.  The bar is not really the allure – it’s just ok.  The beach, however, is fantastic.  We put away a few Painkillers, opted for a cab (pretty tough to find on a tiny island) back to Foxy’s, and managed to get the dinghy towed back out to Spectacle.  Then we put the dinghy on the davits, pulled up the anchor, and headed off for an overnight sail to St. Martin.  More Pictures

The Sail to Grenada Via Bequia

Posted by: melissa

When planning a sail, we look at the distance and route between the two points, plan for an early daytime arrival, and work backwards to a departure time and sailing strategy.  We get very frustrated when we arrive at our destination with not enough daylight left to make the approach and land the boat safely.  In that case, we are forced to heave-to and wait until dawn which can be a very long night monitoring traffic and maintaining an acceptable position.  The sailing time from St. Lucia to Grenada is fairly short, but while passing by the Grenadines island chain, we had to plan for the nighttime lee effect and some other idiosyncrasies.  As such, we started to consider the possibility of a stop along the way.

St. Vincent is by far the largest of the Grenadines, but we dropped it from our itinerary after hearing some less than flattering reviews mostly involving gangs of impoverished, disenfranchised, and armed young men.  We knew about other super fancy islands of the Grenadines – most notably, Mustique, where Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous spends a lot of time with the likes of Mick Jagger and Paul Newman, but I’d rather visit Mustique during the extremely impressive Blues Festival.  However, we heard many good things about Bequia and decided to stop there.

Meaning “island of the clouds” in Arawak, Bequia (pronounced beck-way) is the second largest island of the Grenadines.  Our cruising guides indicated that the bay in Port Elizabeth is a charming anchorage, and though our upcoming cricket commitments prevented us from staying for the annual Easter Regatta, we decided to pull in and check it out.  Distance-wise, Bequia was the perfect intermediate stop since we left St. Lucia in late afternoon and dropped anchor at Port Elizabeth around 9:00 a.m. the next morning.  The night’s sail was really nice and uneventful — Will shared impressions (examples here and here) of Billy Birmingham imitating famous Australian cricket announcer Richie Benaud, which had us in fits.

The anchorage turned out to be insanely crowded, but Andy and I put on a pretty impressive display of anchoring.  We then woke Will up and put him on anchor watch (since he hadn’t taken a night watch), and Andy and I slept for several hours.  With a power nap behind us, we prepared to go to shore, which, from a distance, looked fantastically charming and quirky.  Andy and Will started pumping up the dinghy.  After further investigation of the Jost van Dyke incident, Andy and I have a sneaking suspicion that our previous episode with the dinghy might very well be attributed to a combination of user error and Dread Fox (for Melissa) and Sly Fox (for Andy) cocktails.

As such, we inflated the heck out of the dinghy, jumped on it, double checked all the valves, listened for leaks, and made sure the hand-pump would come to shore with us.  We lowered it into the water and all systems seemed a go.  Unfortunately, the stupid outboard wouldn’t start this time.  I had just tested it in St. Lucia, where it was fine.

After trying the string about a thousand times, we began the disappointing chore of deflating the dinghy and putting everything back together.  Stuck on the boat with plenty of daylight left, we decided to make a quick meal on the boat, pull up anchor, and head to Grenada knowing that we had enough time for an early daylight arrival.  Will got to experience a sadly typical passage … so much of the trip is low on glamour and high on frustration.  In any event, the little we saw of Bequia looked spectacular!

The sail to Grenada was pleasant and uneventful with good wind in the headsail.  I went to bed early and got up around 4:00 a.m. for watch.  As such, I watched the sun come up and the island come into view as we passed by it to get to the preferred bays to the south.  It was an absolutely spectacular morning — mist on 2756-foot Mount St. Catherine provided breathtaking rainbows, lush tropical rainforest, blue sky and bluer ocean, and dolphins welcoming me with my morning coffee.

Panama Canal Transit — Part I

Posted by: andy

“The Crew” — Line Handlers Ian and Margaret, and Pilot Advisor Meza (Middle)On the 19th and 20th, Spectacle transited the Panama Canal.  Given the current ridiculous delays for sailboats, we were pleasantly surprised that our agent Roberto Solano was able to get us an appointment with “only” a 12-day wait and that we managed not to get “bumped” or otherwise stymied.

Among the requirements of the transit is the presence of linehandlers.  Each boat needs the captain plus four other people. This left us two people short, so we enlisted the assistance of two of our fellow Shelter Bay detainees, Ian (a Toronto-based English ex-pat) and MaMargaret, Ian, and Erik on the Approach to the Gatun Locks on Day 1 of Spectacle’s Crossingrgaret (from Southern California).

Each boat crossing the canal is required to employ an “adviser” who assists with the transit (but, presumably as some sort of liability limitation device, makes only “suggestions” instead of issuing commands).

We were told to be in the “flats” anchorage by the Canal entrance no later than 4:00 p.m. on the 19th to pick up our advisor (who would be brought to us via motor launch), so we departed Shelter Bay at three and got over there in plenty of time.  The arrival time of the advisors is notoriously variable (read as: they are supposed to get there at 5:00 but sometimes don’t make it until 9:00), so we figured we’d drop the anchor.

We just could not get the darn thing to hold.  We have some (uninteresting) ideas as to why this may be, but, suffice it to say, we tried to anchor four times with no success.  In fairness to us, the holding in the flats is notoriously bad and the winds were quite high, but it was pretty ridiculous.  Indeed, we made a bit of a spectacle of ourselves, continually driving around in circles and setting then retrieving anchors before returning to further circle-driving.  Not the most auspicious of beginnings.

Around 5:45, we were alerted by the Canal authorities that our advisor was on his way, and within 15 minutes we had him aboard.  His name was Meza, and it became clear right away that he was going to be great – totally friendly, informal, helpful without being bossy.  He informed us we would be the middle boat of a three-boat raft, which is a bit of a mixed blessing.  Although the captain of the middle boat has the added (significant) responsibility of driving the raft, the good news is that (a) if he drives the raft into a wall (or someone else makes a mistake), the damage is going to be to one of the other boats and (b) the middle boat’s linehandlers have very little work to do.  On balance, being in the middle is pretty good.

We motored toward the Canal entrance and began the process of rafting up with the other boats.  This was also the beginning of our concerns.  Suffice it to say, it is not often that we are the only people who know what they are doing (in fact, when it comes to boat-related things, usually quite the other thing), but the Canal crossing was one of those times.  The two other boats with which we were rafted were a bunch of humorless, unpleasant and borderline incompetent Germans to our right and preposterously Wile E. Coyote-esque incompetent-bordering-on-ridiculous French/Dutch to our left.

We stopped Spectacle to allow the left boat to raft up.  They blasted up to us at about four knots and nearly ripped all of our fenders/stanchions off through sheer velocity before deciding to try it again.  Fantastic start, guys.